Whether you’re a beginner planning to do nothing more than a couple of laps around your neighborhood once a week, a seasoned pro who tackles a marathon every second weekend or an aspiring Usain Bolt, you need to know how to choose running shoes.
No matter what level you’re at, a pair of running shoes tailored to your needs is invaluable and with the right pair, you’ll benefit from increased performance and a high level of comfort and safety while getting fit and healthy.
So, where do you start? It’s confusing enough when you walk into a store; you’re blinded by all the bright neon colors and faced with hundreds of different products claiming to do all sorts of different things. It all comes down to fit, feel, your running profile and body type. We’ve broken down and explained everything you need to know in this guide to finding the best running shoes for you.
WHY RUNNING SHOES ARE ESSENTIAL FOR EVERY RUNNER
First of all, do you really need ‘running’ shoes? Yes! While this sounds a little obvious, and you probably wouldn’t be reading this guide if you didn’t know better, many people do mistakenly think that any old pair of sports shoes will do the job.
This is not the case. Running takes a serious toll on your whole body due to the repetitive movement of your feet and the stress of all your weight bouncing up and down on your joints, so it’s important that the shoes you’re wearing provide the necessary support. Furthermore, running shoes also have adequate grip and traction and allow your feet to breathe.
See also: Best Running Shirts: Run like the Wind
Besides not being able to run as well as you’d like to, you will also put yourself at risk of an injury or accident if you wear shoes that are made for other sports. Look after your feet and wear a pair of running shoes that are designed for purpose, you’ll thank us later!
WHAT RUNNING SHOES ARE BEST FOR ME?
It’s easy to work out which running shoes are most suitable for you, with all factors considered and accounted for. You should think of the ideal running shoe like a prescription for eyeglasses; everyone has individual and specialized needs. For tips on how to choose the best running shoes for your needs, see our earlier article on this.
We’ve detailed below all that you need to consider when you invest in a new pair of running shoes in terms of fit, feel and your running style.
Features & Terminology
You will come across various running shoe terms of which we’ve listed the most common below with a brief explanation to get you started.
- Insole: A removable fabric and foam layer that lines the interior of the shoe.
- Midsole: The part of the shoe that is located between the upper and the outsole where you’ll find most of the shoe’s cushioning.
- Outsole: The layer of material (usually hard rubber) which is on the bottom of the shoe and comes into contact with the ground.
- Heel Counter: Reinforcement around the heel which is placed on either the interior or exterior of the shoe.
- Heel Crash Pad: Cushioning placed underneath the heel to absorb shock and impact.
- Heel-Toe Drop: The difference between your foot’s height off the ground at the heel and at the ball of the foot.
- Toe Spring: A design at the toe of the shoe which arcs upward and aims to increase forward momentum.
- Toebox: The part of the shoe that covers and protects the toes.
- Cushioning: The material which is built into a shoe to absorb impact and support your feet.
- Motion Control: If a shoe has motion control, it is designed to limit overpronation; a trait that occurs in people with a low foot arch and is characterized by the foot rolling inwards whilst running. A shoe with motion control will correct overpronation by keeping the foot firmly in place within the shoe.
- Stability: A stability shoe has similarities with a motion control shoe in terms of controlling and correcting movement, however with more flexibility.
There are different products available that are suited to all running types, so when planning to invest in a new pair of running shoes you need to think about what you will be doing with them.
Whether you stick to the treadmill, pound the sidewalk or run cross-country, there are shoes that are made fit for purpose.
- Cross-training shoes: Cross-training shoes are the best option for you if you run mainly on a treadmill. They are also suitable for all-round gym use and activities such as cross-fit, kick-boxing, weight-training and aerobics.
- Trail-running shoes: Trail-running shoes are designed for cross-country terrains, where you run off-road on dirt, through mud or over rocks and tree roots. This type of running shoe will have enhanced tread to provide additional grip and stability, as well as enhanced support.
- Road-running shoes: Road-running shoes are suited to running on cement or asphalt, with allowance for occasional irregular surfaces. Because of the repetitiveness and stress on the feet from running on the hard surface of the road or sidewalk, they have additional cushioning for extra stability.
As some people may have one foot slightly larger than the other, you should try on both the left and right shoes and always get them fitted to the larger size. As a guide, a running shoe slightly larger than your normal street shoe size is better; usually between a half and a full size bigger.
This is because your feet extend by about half an inch in length and by approximately 15 percent in width due to the pressure and load of your body weight that they take on while you’re running.
The level of support that you need from your running shoes and your running style will largely depend on your foot arch. While most products clearly state the foot arch they are most suited for which makes shopping for the right product much easier, it also helps to have a bit of an understanding of what exactly makes a shoe more suited to a high arch, a medium arch or a low arch.
- High Arch: A high arch is less flexible which means that this foot type requires a minimum level of support. If you have high arches, it’s also important to note that your feet have a reduced surface area, which means that impact is absorbed mainly in the ball and heel of your foot, resulting in underpronation. Running shoes designed for high arches will have more cushioning on the forefoot and heel areas to accommodate this and reduce the shock of impact while you’re in action.
- Moderate Arch: A moderate or medium arch means that your feet are moderately flexible, so you would be advised to go for a medium level of support. With this foot type, your weight is more evenly distributed through the foot than those with a high or low arch, and so your best choice of footwear would be a stability style which combines an equal amount of cushioning and support.
- Low Arch: If you have low arches, your feet are very flexible and as such will benefit greatly from the highest level of support that is on offer.
With a low arch, while you’re running your feet tend to land on the side of the heel and roll inward, otherwise known as overpronation.
Due to this characteristic, feet with low arches require motion control running shoes, which incorporate a higher level of cushioning for increased support.
HOW SHOULD RUNNING SHOES FIT & FEEL?
To put it simply, your running shoes should fit you like a glove and you shouldn’t settle for anything less than absolute and flawless comfort.
Keep in mind that any slight pressure or discomfort that you feel when trying them on in the store will be amplified when you’re out running, so it’s worth taking the time and making the effort to shop around.
- Heel: Your heel should feel secure within the shoe, but not tight. On the other hand, your foot will be able to slide out easily whilst the shoe is laced but not tied up.
- Instep: The shoe’s upper should fit comfortably around your foot’s instep. If you experience any tightness, pressure or pain, a different style of running shoe or larger size will be necessary.
- Width: If the running shoe has an ideal width for your foot, you’ll be able to splay your toes out, move your foot easily from left to right and back again and comfortably pinch about a quarter of an inch of the shoe’s upper material between your fingers at the widest point of the foot. Furthermore, if you feel pressure on the side of your little toe then the shoe is not wide enough for your feet. Another good way to check out the width is by removing the insole and placing your foot flat against it. If your foot is larger than the insole, the shoe is not a suitable fit.
- Length: For the ideal length, there should be a space of approximately one to two inches between where your feet end and the toe of the shoe. The store salesperson will be able to help you check this. It’s also a good idea to move your toes up and down while you’re at it; if they wiggle easily then they are a good length for your feet.
- Flex: You can check the flex of running shoes to make sure that they are compatible with the flex of your foot by pushing the toe of the shoe against the floor while holding it by the heel. If the shoe’s flex is not properly aligned with the natural flex of your feet then you put yourself at risk of strain in the arch of your foot, your calf and your Achilles tendon.
OUR TOP TIPS & TRICKS
There are a few tips and tricks that you should know about that will go a long way in helping you make an informed and satisfied decision when shopping for your next pair of running shoes.
Wear your running kit
Okay, so maybe you don’t need your entire running outfit, but take a pair of your running socks to wear while trying on running shoes. If you try on shoes wearing standard day socks or the socks that the store provides, they may have a completely different fit entirely once you take them out for a spin.
Test them out
The way a pair of running shoes feel when you’re sitting down in the store versus when you are in action may be very different. Many stores will have a treadmill which you can use to test them out, or if not you can ask them if there is somewhere nearby where you can run in them.
Bring your current running shoes in to the store
When shopping for a new pair of running shoes, it’s a good idea to bring along the pair you are currently using as this can further help the salesperson understand your running patterns by taking note of how the shoes have been worn.
It’s not all about how they look
Think fit, not fashion. While looking good can certainly make you feel good, running shoes are so specialized and sensitive to the shape of your feet that no matter how much you like the look of them, if they don’t fit you properly then you’ll only regret the purchase later.
The same applies to sizes, some people choose a smaller size because they make their feet look smaller; again, this will just be uncomfortable.
Try shoes on later in the day
Your feet swell throughout the day as a given, but they will swell even more once you’re out running. The best time of the day to try on new shoes is after 4pm, once your feet have swollen as much as they possibly can.
Try them all!
Try on as many different shoes as possible. Even if you think you have found your perfect pair, or a pair that is just good enough, it’s still worth trying on a few more just to be absolutely sure you haven’t missed out on something that fits even better.
Don’t assume your size
If you’re a size 8 with one brand, you may be a size 10 in another. Various brands, materials and styles will fit and feel different so it’s important that you never assume, and be sure to try them on, even if it’s a few sizes up or down from what you normally wear.
Brand loyalty and a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily mean better
Some people have loyalty to certain brands, and they vow to never wear any other. Or maybe they’ve been persuaded by clever marketing that promises the latest technology and believe they need to spend more for a better-quality product.
If this is you, you may be missing out, so try on a variety of brands in a range of price brackets and you could be surprised with what you find.
But do expect to spend a bit of money
While an expensive product may not always mean the best product, you should plan to invest a respectable amount of money in your running shoes. They are a vital piece of equipment and a cheaply made pair that you purchased because of a price tag rather than fit may cost you more in the long run due to doctor’s bills when you injure yourself.
Know when it’s time to invest in new shoes
Believe it or not, running shoes have an expiration date. As a guide, you should throw out your old shoes once you have run 500 miles in them. In addition, as you progress as a runner, your fitness level and running style will change, and therefore so will what you need from your running shoes.
Don’t forget to hydrate on the go! See our reviews of the top running water bottle for more information.
To End the Guide
After reading our guide, the perfect running shoe and a fast-track to increased fitness, comfort and performance is within your reach. For the best barefoot running shoes in town, see our must-read reviews on this topic.
Now you’re clued up on everything that you need to consider, be patient and shop around. As much as a great running shoe can support and enhance your running, the wrong one puts you at serious risk of accident and injury.
What do you think is the most important thing to consider when purchasing running shoes? Let us know in the comments.